February Analysis: Human Rights, Gender and Social Inclusion

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The Supreme Court, last month, issued a directive to the Government of Nepal and Federal parliament to implement the rights of the Dalit community with necessary legal arrangements and policy guidelines in accordance with the Constitution of Nepal, 2015. Official data released by the District Police Office, Mahottari for the past six months stipulates that domestic violence is rampant in this region and further indicates a significant increase in the overall incidents of child sexual abuse since 2019/2020. The Ministry of Home Affairs in its circular dated 24 January restricted Nepali nationals from flying to Malaysia and other Gulf countries under visit visa after receiving multiple complaints of exploitation and inhuman treatment of Nepali workers. In addition to this, the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security decided to re-issue labor permits to those domestic workers that are traveling to gulf countries with a view to grant legal status to the domestic workers currently residing in the destination country without a work permit.

Timeline of Major Events

DateEvents
31 JanuaryDomestic violence rampant in Mahottari District of Madesh Province.  
8 FebruaryData collected by the Nepal Police in the last two and a half years shows significant increase in the incidence of child sexual abuse.  
9 FebruaryMinister for Labour, Employment and Social Security committed to bring reforms in the foreign employment sector.   
12 FebruaryDirective order from Supreme Court  to implement the rights of the Dalit community as provided by the Constitution of Nepal 2015.  
17 FebruarySita Pariyar becomes the first woman from the Dalit community to become a CDO.  
20 FebruaryHuman rights situation is still grim in Karnali and Gandaki Province.  
22 FebruaryDistrict Court Baitadi convicted Dinesh Bhatta in the rape and subsequent murder of Bhagirathi Bhatta.  
22 FebruaryGovernment to re-issue labor permits to the domestic workers traveling Gulf countries to grant legal status to the workers lacking work permits.  

Directive from Supreme Court to Implement rights of Dalits

Supreme Court of Nepal. Photo: RSS

The Supreme Court (SC) issued a directive to the Government of Nepal and Federal parliament to implement the rights of the Dalits community with necessary legal arrangements and policy guidelines in accordance with Articles 24 and 40 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

The division bench instructed the government to make short-term, mid-term and long-term plans in collaboration and coordination with the National Dalit Commission and to commence the effective implementation of the same within three months. Furthermore, in order to effectively implement the rights enshrined under the aforementioned Articles, the Supreme Court, in consultation with the stakeholders, has called for revision and strengthening of the existing policies and laws.

In line with the constitutional commitment for protection and empowerment of Dalits, the Government of Nepal has developed targeted programmatic interventions. Such interventions are to include reservation of 9% for Dalits in  the civil services; 15% reservation in military and security services; reservations in technical education etc; scholarships for Dalit students in public schools and higher educational institutions; social security allowances; children’s nutrition allowance; and the Peoples’ Housing Program. However the said intervention has been severely criticized for its poor implementation and lack of proper planning.

It is pertinent to note that, the Dalit Community of Nepal, at its 37th Session of Human Rights Council (Working Group on Universal Periodic Review) expressed its grievances regarding severe discrimination and violence faced by them. The report submitted by them recommends   enactment of a unified law to ensure effective implementation of fundamental rights of Dalits.

Advocate Prakash Nepali filed a petition before the SC, seeking a writ of mandamus, wherein he pleaded for enactment of separate law to ensure effective implementation of fundamental rights of Dalits in line with Article-40 which came to be rejected. Nevertheless, Supreme Court, while interpreting the Constitution, issued a directive as to the implementation of the rights and entitlements of the Dalit community. Advocate Nepali regards the order of the Supreme Court to be a historic landmark  as it adopts the recommendations put-forth in the 37th Session of Human Rights Council. Concurrently, it may be equally important for the society to change their collective attitudes and outlook towards Dalits in order to effect positive change.

Dalit Representation in  State Apparatus

Aside from cast-based discrimination that the Dalit community faces on a daily basis, they have minimal representation in the state apparatus. A National Human Rights Commission report from 2021 depicted that of the total 88,578 workers in government services, just 1,971 are Dalits, accounting for 0.2 %. According to the research, the Dalit group has a 9.45 % representation in Nepal Police, an 8.14 % representation in the Nepal Army, and a 1% representation in the judicial system. The recent promotion of Sita Pariyar to the position of Chief District Officer (CDO) of Humla may be seen a milestone in terms of social and civil liberation as she is the first woman from the Dalit community to become a CDO. Santa Bahadur Sunuwar is the CDO of Bardiya and Man Bahadur Bishwakarma was the first CDO from the Dalit community.

Violence against women and children

Accused convicted in Bhagirathi Bhatta Rape Case

District Court Baitadi has sentenced Dinesh Bhatta to 12.5 years imprisonment for the rape and subsequent murder of Bhagirathi Bhatta. The sentence was awarded on the basis of statements that Dinesh gave to the police as well as the court in addition to his DNA test.

On February 3, 2021, Bhagirathi Bhatta, 17, from Baitadi was raped and murdered brutally.  Her body was recovered from the Tawalek Community Forest on February 4. The police arrested the perpetrator on February 16, 2021.

Domestic violence rampant in Mahottari District of Madesh Province.

Data released by the District Police Office, Mahottari for the past six months showed that domestic violence is rampant in this region. Statistics from July to mid-December, 2021, showed about 256 registered complaints of domestic violence. According to the police, most complaints were regarding physical assault and cruelty by the in-laws in the absence of a husband. Likewise, complaints have been lodged against the husband for physical assault and cruelty including denial of citizenship, childbirth, marriage registration and other documents.

According to experts, in addition to domestic violence against women, there exist other incidents of violence such as rape and murder and the victims have been denied justice owing to political influence in such cases. Furthermore, when the cases of violence against women are registered in court, the victims are subjected to undue pressure while making their statements which consequently weakens the credibility of their testimonies.

Human Rights Violation in Karnali and Gandaki Province

Human Rights Year Book 2022 released by Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) of Karnali Pradesh revealed that 430 incidents of human rights violations took place in 2021. 396 incidents of Human Rights violations were registered in the year, of which 320 were women and the rest were men.  Furthermore, 205 cases of violence against women, 80 cases of rape, six cases of attempted rape and 29 cases of sexual abuse was recorded.  In the year 2020, 426 incidents of Human Rights violation were registered, of which 332 are women and the rest are men.

Although the incidents of human rights violations have decreased in Karnali compared to 2020, there is no significant improvement. Custodial death, murders by family members and intimidation have increased. According to the Year Book, in 2021, two people died in prisons, 34 people including 20 women and 14 men were murdered, and 12 suffered intimidation.

Likewise, Gandaki province records show that 125 women and 54 children were victims of human rights violations in the past six months. Amongst the violence against children, 39 are rape victims, six victims of sexual harassment, seven of corporal punishment, one of child marriage, and one infanticide. Amongst the violence perpetrated against women, six are rape victims, six are victims of rape attempt, and one each of sexual harassment, polygamy, and human trafficking, while domestic violence was recorded against 99.

Despite both men and women suffering, the data above indicates that women are more likely to be victims of human rights violations. Deprivation of rights of women and children including violence against them is prevalent. Non-implementation of the constitutional system is one of the main reasons for the increasing number of human rights violations. According to the National Human Rights Commission, coordination among the three tiers of the Government is imperative for effective implementation of laws.

Child Sexual Abuse Increased

An examination of the data collected by the Nepal Police in the last two and a half years up to the fiscal year 2019/2020 shows a significant increase in the incidence of child sexual abuse. In the fiscal year 2019/2020, 244 children were sexually abused. This number increased to 304 in FY 2020/2021. As of mid-December of the current Fiscal Year 2021/2022, 121 children have been sexually abused in the last six months. Analysing the data of 671 cases of child sexual abuse in a period of two and a half years, 386 children (about 58 percent) are in the age group of 11 to 16 years. 239 children (about 36 percent) are under the age of 10. Many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported as the victims are threatened either directly or indirectly by perpetrators.

Safe Foreign Migration of Nepali Workers

On January 24, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular restricting Nepali nationals from flying to Malaysia and other Gulf countries under visit visa, until further notice. The decision was made after receiving multiple complaints of exploitation and inhuman treatment of Nepali workers in the UAE. However, the government has laid down number of exemptions to this restriction. Minister for Labor, Employment and Social Security Krishna Kumar Shrestha, representing the government for the management of Nepalis stranded in the UAE will soon visit the said country, with an aim to facilitate implementation of bilateral labor agreement reached between the two countries. This is an initiative carried out by the government to make foreign employment safe and orderly. 

In addition to the aforementioned directive, the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security has decided to re-issue labor permits to the domestic workers traveling to gulf countries in order to confer legal status to the domestic workers currently residing at the destination country without a work permit. Prior to this decision, the Government had imposed restrictions on traveling of domestic workers to the gulf countries with the exception of Jordan. The bilateral agreement signed between Nepal and Jordan is exemplary in terms of good practices. It is not the same with other countries. Nepali migrant workers have had a tragic history, where they have been abused, abducted and killed in Kuwait, Iraq, Malaysia. With an aim to protect the domestic migrant workers, the government ceased issuing labor approvals but this did not stop the migrant workers from taking illegal channels. Many workers feared coming back home to visit their family either due to fear of prosecution or being retained. The instant decision has been made to safeguard the livelihood of citizens with less affluent backgrounds traveling overseas through illegal channels, further risking their lives. The decision would also allow more female workers to work in the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.

It is also pertinent to note that, starting from 27 January 2022, the UAE government has covered the domestic workers in the Wage Protection System (WPS) which allows the employers to pay workers’ wages electronically through banks, exchange offices and financial institutions approved and authorized by the Central Bank”. This applies to all the domestic help professions stated in the law including housemaids, nannies, housekeepers, cooks, family drivers, security guards, gardeners, farmers, private coaches, private teachers, private nurses, private representatives, private agriculture engineers, sailors, shepherds, falcon care-taker and workers.

Although the UAE has assured WPS for all domestic workers it remains to be seen if the same would cover migrant workers of other nationalities working in UAE, unless it is mentioned in the bilateral agreements and MoUs signed between Nepal and UAE.

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